Now that it's scored a $631 million contract with the U.S. Marines to phase out Humvees in favor of its mine-resistant MaxxPros, Navistar International Corp. intends to parlay that into consumer currency for its civilian version: the humongous, tough-as-nails MXT.
And it's doing so with the help of a foul-mouthed granny and an idiot-savant surfer.
Phasing out Humvees
Navistar International Corp. is providing 1,200-plus MaxxPros, which have a V-shape underbody that deflects mines, to replace Humvees, which proved vulnerable to Iraqi insurgents. International is still in the running for a number of other U.S. military contracts that will fill a total order of 7,700 units worth billions of dollars, a spokesman said.
The goal, however, is to challenge Humvees (owned by A.M. General) in the field and Hummers (licensed by General Motors Corp.) on the highway. "Our association with the military is great for us because it shows we have a truck that's durable," said Al Saltiel, VP-marketing of Navistar, which is best known for commercial trucks.
It's trying to make its big, bad MXT more known to the masses using two YouTube videos and product placement on HBO's surf series "John from Cincinnati." Its business-to-business shop is Bagby & Co., Chicago, but for the consumer push Navistar is working with Fathom Communications, New York, which is also finalizing a licensing deal with an undisclosed hip-hop artist for a limited-edition model.
Tapping the 'Tube
Fathom tapped established YouTube directors, including Greg Benson of Mediocre Films, to host one of his "Greg Hits Hollywood" videos for an "MXT Tour" in and around Hollywood. He invites four people he met on the street to join him in the back seat of the 300-horsepower MXT for a short road trip -- including a white-haired granny who squeals, "This kicks ass."
Fathom also hired Blame Society Productions for the second video, "You are a Champ," showing an "unworthy" man training to get keys to the MXT.
At this writing the two videos had 47,000-plus total views. "We're generating a lot of word-of-mouth for this truck," Saltiel said.
Due to capacity restrictions, International can only produce 400 MXTs this year, said Mr. Saltiel, which start at $90,000 but can go as high as $130,000, loaded. That's a far cry from the 27,108 Hummers GM sold in the U.S. in the first half of 2007, a 17% drop from the year-earlier period.
Of course, International doesn't have to spend much to convert its commercial trucks to consumer ones, which have big profit potential, said Lincoln Merrihew, senior VP of TNS Automotive.
So could MXT be the next Hummer?
"I'm sure that's what they are hoping for," said Mr. Merrihew.